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Bosnia: Official Says U.S. Presence May Be Extended

Prague, 16 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - A top U.S. human rights official indicated that the United States is edging closer to the idea of extending its role in Bosnia past the June 1998 expiration date for NATO-led SFOR forces to withdraw.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, John Shattuck, told RFE/RL yesterday in Prague that the U.S. is analyzing its mission there so far, while also looking forward.

In his words, "The U.S. is not going to end its involvement - quite the contrary - there may be another mission that gets looked at by those putting together this mission."

He said U.S. and NATO allies will focus on fulfilling the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords before considering a troop pullout next year. Shattuck said he saw clear progress on several fronts. He said the international community has made major headway in apprehending indicted war criminals.

Shattuck said the recent surrender of 10 Bosnian Croat war crimes suspects - including the top wanted Bosnian Croat, Dario Kordic - puts pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to turn over former wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic and other war crimes suspects.

"No indicted war criminal should have a good night's sleep until they're in the Hague," Shattuck said. He added that it is "very likely" that they will be in the Hague in the near future.

Shattuck said that the arrest of war criminals like Kordic isolates authorities in Pale who have claimed in the past that the war crimes tribunal targets Serbs. Shattuck said there are now more Croats in the Hague than Serbs.

Shattuck said another sign of progress is the recent success of local elections in Bosnia. He said the violence-free September 13-14 elections represented "another small step forward" in the effort to bring peace to the region. He credited the 70 percent voter turnout and refugee participation as contributions to that success.

One major victory from the election was that Bosnian Muslims expelled from Srebrenica in the worst atrocity of the war won majority control of the local municipal council. It remains unclear exactly how the newly-elected officials will manage to take up duties since Srebrenica is now in the hands of nationalistic Bosnian Serbs.

In his words, "The election results here give modest hopes for refugee returns and rolling back worst results of ethnic cleansing."

However he conceded that major problems remain in implementing one of the most contentious provisions of the Dayton Accords - the return of displaced persons to the places they lived before they were driven out by vicious ethnic cleansing campaigns. Shattuck said that 150,000 displaced persons have returned to their homes, but that property law restrictions in Bosnia and Croatia are preventing more from returning. He said the international community is pressing the Dayton parties to change property laws.

In his words, " The property laws are unclear. There's the challenge of finding homes for those who are occupying properties people want to move back in to. It's just not an easy process...nothing is going to happen overnight."

Shattuck said the international community is working "overtime" on returning displaced persons to their homes and also finding missing persons who disappeared from Srebrenica during the war.